Coke exploring 3 routes for plant-based packaging

John Kalkowski

January 30, 2014

4 Min Read
Coke exploring 3 routes for plant-based packaging

Coca-Cola is leading the beverage industry away from non-renewable plastic packaging by launching multi-million dollar partnership agreements. The company has chosen to work with three biotechnology firms to speed commercial development of next-generation PlantBottle packaging made from 100-percent plant-based materials. The company's ambitious goal: To use PlantBottle packaging for its entire virgin PET supply by 2020, according to Rick Frazier, vp, commercial product supply. 

In 2009, Coca-Cola launched its first-generation PlantBottle, the first recyclable PET beverage bottle made from plants (with 30 percent plant-based material). It has been deployed in 20 countries, and more than 10 billion have been distributed. 

In a mid-December 2011 news conference, Coca-Cola announced agreements with industry leaders Virent, Gevo and Avantium for developing plant-based alternatives to materials traditionally made from fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources. Frazier says this decision followed a two-year analysis of technologies at more than 30 companies by Coca-Cola's R&D team and technical advisory board.

"While the technology to make bio-based materials in a lab has been available for years, we believe Virent, Gevo and Avantium possess technologies that have high potential for creating them on a global commercial scale within the next few years," Frazier says. "This is a significant R&D investment in packaging innovation and is the next step toward our vision of creating all of our plastic packaging from responsibly sourced plant-based materials."

The agreements will help Coca-Cola support its long-term commitments through sustainable practices in sourcing and packaging supply. While Virent, Gevo and Avantium will follow their own routes to make bio-based materials, all materials will be in line with Coca-Cola and industry recycling requirements.

"Virent's long-term agreements with the Coca-Cola Co. are pioneering milestones in the commercialization of our technology to produce plant-based materials," says Virent CEO Lee Edwards. "Our patented technology features catalytic chemistry to convert plant-based sugars into a full range of products identical to those made from petroleum, including bio-based paraxylene, a key component needed to deliver 100-percent plant-based PET packaging." 

PET with Virent's bio-based paraxylene has the same quality and recyclability as petroleum-based materials, with the benefit of being made from renewable materials. Virent, of Madison, WI, is slated to open its first full-scale commercial plant in 2015.

"We are extremely gratified to have won the confidence of the Coca-Cola Co. and are excited to support Coca-Cola's sustainable packaging goals with this agreement to develop and commercialize technology to produce paraxylene from bio-based isobutanol," says Patrick Gruber, CEO of Gevo, based in Luverne, MN. "The Coca-Cola Co. is in a unique position to drive and influence change in the global packaging supply chain with this development. You cannot ask for a better champion than one of the most respected and admired consumer brands." 

"Avantium is proud to partner with the Coca-Cola Co. to demonstrate that our patented ‘YXY' technology produces bio-based PEF bottles with exceptional functional properties at a competitive price," says Tom van Aken, CEO of Avantium. "We have produced PEF bottles with promising barrier and thermal properties and look forward to our work with Coca-Cola to further develop and commercialize PEF bottles. Our production process fits with existing supply and manufacturing chains and we are targeting commercial production in the next few years."

Netherlands-based Avantium plans to use furan dicarboxylic acid (FDCA) to produce PEF (polyethylene furanoate) instead of PET. It claims FDCA is less expensive than purified terephthalic acid (PTA). PEF is said to have superior barrier and other performance properties.

Frazier points out that PlantBottle packaging makes a difference by reducing the company's dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels and minimizing the carbon impact of PET. It is estimated the use of PlantBottle packaging in the first two years alone has helped save the equivalent annual emissions of more than 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. In the news conference, he said Coca-Cola has paid a premium for this type of packaging that was not passed on to consumers.

As a sustainable packaging leader, the company also looks for opportunities to advance innovation across the industry. Earlier this year, the Coca-Cola Co. announced a partnership with H.J. Heinz Co. that allows Heinz to produce ketchup bottles using PlantBottle technology. Heinz PlantBottle packaging launched this summer in the U.S. 

Coca-Cola already produces a fully recyclable HDPE (high-density polyethylene) plastic made 100 percent from plant material for Odwalla juice brand products. While HDPE is an ideal package for some refrigerated juice products, it is not suitable for shelf-stable carbonated and still beverages.


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